The Philadelphia Phillies’ failure to sign B.J. Upton and Dan Haren in free agency may ultimately doom their 2013 playoff hopes.
Upton would have provided the Phillies with both a credible right-handed power threat and above-average defense in center field.
For the past decade, Philadelphia has had center field manned by excellent defensive players who could also hit. First Aaron Rowand and then Shane Victorino provided serious production from a position where good defenders who contribute offensively have traditionally been scarce.
The Phillies did plug the gaping hole Victorino left in center field by acquiring Ben Revere. This was not an altogether insufficient move. Revere is a terrific defensive outfielder with more than enough foot speed to play center field at Citizens Bank Park. And he projects to steal plenty of bases, too.
Unfortunately, his next major league home run will be his first, and as of this writing the Phillies are still not exactly sure where Revere should hit in the order.
Revere is a prototypical lead-off hitter. but Jimmy Rollins—who has led off for Philadelphia since before they began winning those five straight division titles—has resisted moving down in the order for anyone. Revere could end up hitting second or eighth as a result.
Acquiring B.J. Upton would have defused this issue. Upton would have slotted nicely into any number of slots in the lineup, from second to fifth to sixth on occasion.
Upton piles up three things: home runs, stolen bases and strikeouts (1,020 of them in 3,568 at-bats). His .256 career batting average compiled over seven seasons suggests that he is what he is and that potential is no longer a real consideration.
Just know that the Phillies would have lived with the empty at-bats from Upton given what the good at-bats could bring.
In 2013, the Revere acquisition will rise and fall on whether Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have one last healthy, productive campaign in them collectively. Revere can be counted on to score runs but he should not be expected to create them.
It is fair to ask why it says here that the Phillies missed an opportunity by seeing Dan Haren go to the Washington Nationals.
The Phillies are already paying over $20 million apiece to Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay in 2013. At some point, the spending on starting pitchers had to stop, right?
Maybe. But Dan Haren on a one-year contract for $13 million is a very wise upside investment from a Nationals team that, like the Phillies, already has excellent starting pitching.
Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez led the Nationals to the playoffs far more than Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth did.
Adding Haren to that staff puts the Nationals in position to run well above average starting pitching at the opposition four out of five nights.
Maybe Haren is not what he used to be, coming off a subpar season that saw his ERA lurch over four for the first time since 2010.
Then again, in 2011, Haren won 16 games.
Regardless, the Upton and Haren acquisitions starkly underline the fundamental difference between the Phillies and their division rivals in Atlanta and Washington.
The Phillies had already committed eight-figure salaries to seven players before free agents began signing after the 2012 season ended. The Phillies are stuck hoping that Utley, Howard, Halladay and others are still good enough to yield a return on the money they will be paid.
Comparatively, the teams the Phillies figure to chase in 2013 have money and time in their corner. The Nationals (Harper, Strasburg, Ian Desmond) and the Braves (Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel) have a lot of young, inexpensive talent on the roster.
So, the Braves can commit $75 million to B.J. Upton and hope that his attitude and his production will not dip now that he has been paid.
And the Nationals can gamble $13 million on Haren. If it does not work out, well, the team they had without him won the division last year.
At some level, the real missed opportunities for the Phillies came well before the 2012 offseason.
When they had the opportunities NOT to sign Howard to his $125 million extension, NOT to sign Lee to his $120 million deal, NOT to give Utley $15 million for 2013, they chose otherwise.
This offseason, those long-ago choices left the Phillies unable or unwilling to sign two premier free agents who ended up elsewhere in the National League East.
The Phillies likely feel no regret now.
But it may be coming.